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How slot machines are designed to be addictive (theguardian.com)
364 points by YeGoblynQueenne on Nov 5, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 193 comments



To make matters worse, after all this effort to hook players in with a promise of a win just around the corner, it seems that casinos often don't pay up when players win big. Instead, they blame jackpots on malfunctions.

Three cases of this from Ars:

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/10/1-4-million-jack...

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/06/sorry-maam-you-d...

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/04/sorry-grandma-th...

The incomprehensible thing is that courts have stood behind the casinos in such cases.


I used to work for a large online casino company and they were really proud of paying out the largest slots jackpot at the time because it attracts players. These companies make so much money they can afford their jackpots when they get the maths right.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3267379/Soldier-...


This is reasonable when machines list a maximum reward of say 10,000$ and then it says has someone win 2000x that. After all, the players did not make the bet thinking such a payout was possible.

IMO, it is a sign the machines are not setup to follow the states rules. But, people are suing for the amount listed not trying to shut the casino down.


If malfunction voids all pays and plays, and if the casino can legally not pay what the machine says it should, then it should also be on the casino to track down every single person who's ever put money into that machine and give them a full refund. If a machine has the kind of coding glitch that could cause this sort of payout, who's to say it hasn't been stealing from players all along?


i agree in principle with your argument, but i imagine the only way to properly track historical players of that machine is if they kept some sort of ledger or database on every single user of the machine, which probably means they'd need to store your personal information somewhere indefinitely. not sure too many gamblers would be cool with that.


It's called a rewards card, and almost every frequent slot machine player uses them because they get perks.


Players who spend a lot of money already let the casino track them on purpose so they can get perks.


blockchain slots? I like it....


>This is reasonable when machines list a maximum reward of say 10,000$ and then it says has someone win 2000x

I disagree. It should be trivial to code a machine to not display a number greater then it's maximum bet.

Forcing slot makers to honor their machine's output will incentivize them to better bug test their products.


Memory gets randomly corrupted over time. So, you can make things unlikely, but impossible is more difficult than you migh think.

Having shat said, some penalties for this is reasonable. Aka, treat it as a maximum payout.


If we could send a space probe billions of miles away and have it still work, despite being 40-year-old technology, I think we can make a robust system to run a slot machine without having to spend astronomical figures. But that's just me.


Many probes fail, but we care about success.

On the other hand with slot machines ~999,990 work 'just fine' and we care about the 10 that fail at some point.

Each machine may be used ~100 times an hour for 20 years. Odd crap is going to happen.

That said someone probably messed up at some point. However, perfection is never going to happen.


> Memory gets randomly corrupted over time.

That's not a good excuse. Same memory gets corrupted on machines which are processing our online money transfers and yet we don't see problems when buying things online. Why? Because there are layers upon layers validating data integrity, so that even if something gets corrupted, no invalid payment is made.


Banking uses audits after the fact, the number listed on you bank statement is often incorrect. EX: all the people who end up with far more in their checking accounts that they should have. And frankly, casinos are using the exact same process two systems that compare results to correct things after the fact.


It would make sense to still pay out the maximum amount listed in that case.


link 1: "Gambler has no right to contest non-payment because casino is on tribal land"

link 3: "there was "clearly a display malfunction" and that the machine's maximum payout was programmed for $6,500"

link 3: "the user-agreement, available on the touch screen, said the maximum payout was $10,000"

Why incomprehensible? Because you know (the latter 2) aren't really malfunctions?


From the article: the courts did not stand behind the casinos, they said that they do not have jurisdiction.


The original patent on virtual reels was granted in 1984 and is known in the industry as the "Telnaes patent"

https://patents.google.com/patent/US4448419A

The original design of virtual reels was more about decreasing the jackpot odds, since a high-payout combination was no longer bound to the physical stops on the reels. Machines that offered higher jackpots were more appealing, and also gave birth to things like progressive jackpots and progressive networked games.

It also made IGT (the owner of the patent) a giant in the industry. Many workarounds were tried and typically failed in the lawsuits that followed. The most successful deviation was the "bonus game" where a particular symbol set would trigger a small video game or some other activity that had its own paytable independent of the main slot paytable.

The psychological design of near misses didn't show up until probably a decade afterward, but since '419 is now expired it's become the new secret sauce of slotmakers.


Using a random number generator to pick the spot a wheel stops spinning is enough for a patent?


That's the title, but the main innovation was using a random number generator to choose from among more positions than symbols that the physical wheel possesses, thus allowing different odds for different symbols. The interesting bit comes from claim 8 and 9:

> a random number generator for selecting one number from a plurality of numbers each representing one of said different angular rotational positions, said plurality of numbers exceeding the number of rotational positions of said reel such that a plurality of numbers represents some of the reel positions; and

...

> assigning a different quantity of numbers to each position to obtain the win odds desired.


You have to remember this was invented in 1982. Using RNGs, stepper motors, and mapped tables was certainly enough for a patent in that era.


I used to program in 1982 and these things were completely obvious at that time. However, you can patent almost anything, both then and today. Patents are more of a process than a science.


You could have made a fortune selling this to a slot manufacturer in 1982. So why didn't you?


Business is about understanding customers, not code. I was a 16 year old kid in West Virginia.


Disclaimer: I design the machines and games for a living.

1) regarding near miss, with basic math knowledge you can easily calculate the odds of near miss. Eg. with 2 special symbols per 30 symbol reel, for a 3x5 reel game, you have a 1:5 chance of seeing the special symbol per reel, or once per spin for a 5 reel game. The odds of a 4 symbol near miss is (1:5)^4, which is 1:625, or once every 30 minutes. With a bank of 30 machines, someone will have near miss fanfare every minute. If a bigger win is (1:5)^5, that is 1:3125 spins, or every 150 minutes per machine. That same 30 EGM bank will be paying out a large win every 5 minutes, ie. just short enough for every player on the bank to realise that the machines are “hot”. Its not planned, it just works out that way.

2) when it comes to addiction, if the stats the media are stating is correct, every 6th employee in the industry would also be addicted (using the definition of addiction used from chemical substance abuse). Since there is no measurable difference in addiction levels for employees (who spend 40hrs per week interacting with slots) and players who spend less time, the addiction argument looses its basis.

3) games adjusting payouts based on the outcome of previous games are illegal. The industry is heavily regulated (independant compliance agencies), and no operator wants to lose their license doing illegal things.

4) people have a natural tendency to arrange items, from socks and underwear in drawers, to payout symbols on the screen. There is a natural high people get when they complete a sorting job. I’ve worked with 3 big slot companies, and none of them had paid psychologists on call - there is no need.

5) its a voluntery activity. There are lots of people who enjoy the activity, the excitement, the thrill, etc and they’re responsible enough to only wager less than the cost of a theatre ticket. Sometimes they finish the night with more money than they brought in. Its a regulated activity for adults.


Having worked with data analytics in problem gambling for ten years, your dismissal of the addictiveness of these games is either uninformed or rationalized, most likely both.

Recent research in Sweden shows that some 75% of online casino turnover are from what can be loosely described as moderate risk gambling (PGSI3+) and approximately 50% from problem gambling (PGSI8+). Similarly about 25% of regular (monthly) players are problem gamblers. Of those who start playing slots monthly, 10% develop gambling problems within a year.

These are bad numbers. Really bad. And they match my experience from million-players-+ databases of actual gambling data.

The most significant marker to predict gambling problems is the amount wagered, say per month. The more someone plays, the higher the risk of that person having gambling problems. About 10% of players make up 80% of the turnover; about 0.1% about 10%. The Pareto principle at play, sure, but combined with the former it basically says that you can't trust the industry for advice on problem gambling.

This is not your safe-little-hobby thing, and the amount players who really enjoy them are much, much, much fewer than you make it sound. The majority of the industry's revenue come from people who would like to stop but can't. This is by any useful definition neither rational nor voluntary. The main claim of the industry is "informed choice" and the users' responsibility to take control, despite loss of control being the very definition of the illness.

This is another tobacco-industry-like example of society slowly realizing the hidden costs being pushed by a powerful industry to unknowing and often vulnerable third parties.


Human psychology studies are a tricky thing, where everyone only focuses on data which matches their preconceived notions. I'm sure that some university group has researched the cost of fashion addiction, music addiction, car addiction, holiday addiction etc. yet no-one is talking about the social cost of fashion/collections/other vices people may have. There was a large Casino court case in Australia a couple of months ago and the "experts" (if they can be called that) couldn't prove that gambling was an addictive activity, since a large portion of playerswho participated in 'gambling activities' could not be classified as addicted. Since the prosecution couldn't prove the slot machines were addictive, the case against the Casino was dropped (lots of expert testimony ended up being dismissed).


Well, Gambling Disorder is a recognized psychological diagnosis in DSM 5[0], so I guess the reader will have to weigh the credibility of the industry's claims vs all the other evidence around.

Also, from your comments I assume you rarely meet a representative sample of your customers. I did, and that experience ALSO matched my other claims. You do you of course, and I know where you're coming from: I too built gambling software for five years before I went to work with problem gambling. If integrity is important to you though, you should read up on the subject (Addictive by design is a good book), meet some of your customers, and take your own and your company's self-interest biases into account.

[0] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gambling-disord...


How do you get into the gambling disorder (?)/ problem gambling side of things? That sounds more like a task for healthcare than tech - making it all the more interesting to understand.


I took a job in a data analytics firm, which had the national Swedish gambling operator as customer. The idea was to predict which players were at risk of developing gambling problems using ML. Backing this was also a team of psychologists. (I left about a year ago, so I'm writing in the past tense below.)

As it turns out, the task became to identify those who are at risk today from gambling data, which is relatively easy to do probabilistically with actionable precision. From here, the next step was to figure out if the person wanted help to change, which also is surprisingly easy to do by just asking.

This is by the way also to the industry's excuse that "we shouldn't tell adults what to do!". When asked, on a gambling site, a majority of those with gambling problems SAY that they would like to change, but aren't able to. Then it's no longer about telling people how to behave, but instead helping those who ask for help. But by not asking, the industry can get away with "we shouldn't tell..."

The really hard nut to crack was to give those who want but aren't able to. It's definitely not just about telling them -- most know, _and take responsibility for_, that they do destructive things. Normative feedback (this is how much others play) seemed to work on a mid-term. Calling people also did some positives; many were relieved that somebody saw them and that they finally could talk to somebody, very few got annoyed. But as a first approximation, fighting problem gambling is still an unsolved problem.


Something being a recognized diagnosis is not meaningful on its own. The nature of medical documentation and its ties to payment in the US and interoperability everywhere means structured, defined codes are needed for everything that could conceivably occur. That is why there are also special codes for other problems like your subsequent encounter with being sucked into a jet engine, or wounds sustained in a jetski accident that occurred while you were on fire.


Look you may not want to admit it, but you make your money from praying on and promoting addiction. You are a drug dealer and directly ruin people's lives.

Denial has a strong psychological basis, but if you want to look back on your life without massive regrets leave the industry.


I could not agree more; I long ago decided that while I might work on many a terrible corporate project I'd never work for two types of companies; defence or anything gambling-related.


Do you agree that 'problem' or 'compulsive' gambling (Wiki: "an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop") is (a) real, (b) responsible for a significant portion of your industry's profits, and (c) responsible for a great deal of human misery?

If you agree that it is real, what distinction are you drawing between compulsive gambling and gambling addiction, and why is that distinction important?


First, do you agree that there are experts in some fields? If yes, why the quotes on these experts? If these specific experts deserved the quotes, then, were they the right people to be called to testify in a court case?

Second, you've chosen a tricky country to set as an example: Australia has an extremely strong pokies (slot machines in there) lobby. There has been several cases of corruption linked to them, so I'd take the rulings with a grain of salt.


Are you completely dismissing all human psychology studies as fraudulent?


I don't think that's supported by what he wrote - he said its tricky, not invalid.


They also clarified tricky as meaning "where everyone only focuses on data which matches their preconceived notions". Reads like a general dismissal of an entire branch of science to me.


"preconceived notions" is a euphemism for "profit motives".


What's your source for this? The only large court case involving a casino in Australia that I know of is the Crown and Aristocrat case, and the judgement hasn't actually been handed down yet.


The problem in identifying addition prone candidates is a problem of ethics. The primary behavior that defines "the gambler state", and many other forms of addiction, is a neurological disorder related to responses of dopamine flooding. This is a physiological condition in the brain that can be observed, validated, and analyzed against trends.

---

The addiction

In the most simple of terms dopamine is a brain hormone related to pleasure responses. If you eat chocolate and it tastes great your brain might get a small reward of dopamine. This is normal behavior and it is intentional so that the brain learns that pleasurable responses follow good decisions that result in rewards.

The part of this behavior that triggers addiction is that the dopamine response is not consistent. Planned and known wins result in small rewards. A surprise win results an observably larger reward. Again, this is proper human behavior intended to influence learning and decisions in the brain.

Addiction sets in when there is a disconnect between the dopamine cycle (the pleasurable stimulus from a win) and the resultant learning. A healthy person learns that the surprise win results in greater pleasure and modifies their behavior to find or achieve other surprises, because the current win is no longer a surprise and will no longer trigger the big dopamine rush. An person suffering from addiction, however, repeats the same behaviors in order to reproduce the same surprise wins because their brains haven't learned from the surprise. In their case their behavior is like-wise modified as influenced by the dopamine response, but instead of influenced in a direction for making future decisions they are stuck in a state of instant replay.

While the learning dysfunction is bad it isn't the primary problem of addiction. When the cognitive decision making is informed by a short-circuited response to a non-cognitive physiological condition of the brain the person won't know there is anything wrong or impaired. After all, either way there is a dopamine cycle and modified behavior. It is impossible to determine the impairment yourself because that very level of awareness and reasoning are influenced by this dopamine-learning cycle that is impaired in the first place.

That impossibility is the problem of addiction.

---

The ethics

People with the dysfunctional behavior are identifiable. The problem is what do you do with them. You already know they are subject to a hopeless cycle of instant-replay and can use that knowledge to bleed them dry. Their decision making on a very foundational and emotional level is hopelessly damaged.

On one hand you can ask them to give you everything they own, and they will if you ask them correctly. This isn't just gambling or addiction, but qualifies a whole host of behaviors associated with marketing generally and isn't necessarily wrong... immediately.

Ethically speaking there is nothing wrong with persuading or manipulating people. People encounter such choices numerous times everyday. The ethical part creeps on two fronts:

1. If you know somebody's basic decision making capability is damaged and you intentionally abuse that damage to your self satisfaction

2. If you know bombarding a person, whether or not in a state of reasonable deciding capacity, with messaging to influence that person contrary to their objectives or in excess of a reasonable period of messaging

In many cases things that are commonly referred to as vises intentionally violate those two identified points of ethics. The legal available of a service or product does not qualify the ethics around such.


>The problem is what do you do with them.

Apparently the casinos' response is to give them free food, drinks, flattery, personal attention, attractive host(esse)s, and comp them luxurious hotel suites with big windows overlooking crowded country music festivals.


>If you know somebody's basic decision making capability is damaged and you intentionally abuse that damage to your self satisfaction

Wouldn't this include a lot of advertisement? Simply informing a person that an option exists wouldn't fall under it, but so many advertisements use psychological tricks that take advantage of common flaws in our decision making patterns.

>If you know bombarding a person, whether or not in a state of reasonable deciding capacity, with messaging to influence that person contrary to their objectives or in excess of a reasonable period of messaging

And this fits advertising even more.


Agreed, but where do you draw the line? How do you determine when a person has had too much or who are too broken to police themselves? Just to be safe let's poison the well by casting the widest possible net and ensure we capture everybody equally.

Only then can we be sure who are the weakest links... the people most ripe for abuse. I suppose the social problem is that there is little motivation to identify people prone to addiction unless you have motivation to abuse that addiction.


> Its not planned, it just works out that way

Oh come on, this is some doublethink if ever I saw it.

> Every 6th employee in the industry would also be addicted

No- the employees would be out of a job if the addicts werent in there, they see both sides of the coin, winners and losers, and have a completely different perspective on gambling. If anything I’d expect employees to be more immune to addiction than anything else.

Your arguments 4 & 5 can be applied directly to hard drugs without modification.

I don’t think gambling or what you do is immoral, but if your line of thinking is how you justify your job you should think again as it sounds like it doesn’t match up with your own morals.


> Your arguments 4 & 5 can be applied directly to hard drugs without modification.

That doesn't make them bad arguments. His arguments 4&5 are perfectly fine arguments, even when applied to hard drugs.


There is an important distinction between "program these 30 machines such that every 5 someone gets a pay out" and "program this machine such that 1 out of every n pulls is a pay out."


"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way." -Jessica Rabbit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAnNvnViJpo


4) people have a natural tendency to arrange cocaine into nice straight lines. There is a natural high people get when they complete a snorting job. I've worked with 3 big coke dealers, and none of them had paid physicians on call - there is no need.


> 5) its a voluntery activity. There are lots of people who enjoy the activity, the excitement, the thrill, etc and they’re responsible enough to only wager less than the cost of a theatre ticket. Sometimes they finish the night with more money than they brought in. Its a regulated activity for adults.

I'm not really sure that it's voluntary. My last several trips to Vegas I was surprised by the new number of pamphlets placed just about everywhere around the casinos (probably by law) that state in very short and simple terms how bad your odds of winning are and that gambling is not meant for making money, but it doesn't seem to stop the wave of sad stories in any way - there's an addictive quality to the games, the same that keeps kids spending hundreds or thousands on loot boxes in games.

It's predatory, and yes, the gambler themselves do need to make the effort to show restraint, it's not really something that's easily controlled for a lot of the population. I'd posit that those who are able to take the hit of a loss have the same problem and addiction as those who can't take the hit of a loss; they're chasing the same high and the same result, it's just that one has a more generous buffer for failure than the other. Both are equally susceptible to over-spending.


2. I used to work in the gaming industry too (not slots). If you're on the other side you just realize in the long run gambling is a losing proposition so you won't be pursuing the activity as hard. Also that job is a consistent stream of income.

3. Yes, but they are designed to be as addictive as possible. I'm quite appalled by online slots (Android, iPhone) where no money is at stake, but coins can be purchased, and the amount of coins purchasable is adjusted based on how much you play. I'm thinking Zynga based games primarily.

5. That's fair but a weak argument. 100% of people who go to the theatre or eat out spend money, but the amount is fixed and known up front. I guess you can say the same for slots when the payout percentage is up front, but still, Vegas wasn't built by giving away money.


About point number (4)

I don't think anyone said you have psychologists on call. Slot machines have been around for hundreds of years. Obviously, someone has figured out how to best make them work. The industry clearly has the know-how to make addictive games that hook players in: if it didn't, then its machines would not be as addictive as they are. Unless we want to pretend the machines got so addictive by chance, alone.

About point number (2)

I really don't get what you mean here. Do you mean industry employees are gamblers themselves, or that they gamble as part of their job? I'd appreciate a clarification.

About point number (5)

I don't gabmle and I've never played any slots. The reason for this is that I can tell there's no way to come on top. If I play slots and win more than the house wins, then the house is losing money. So for slots machines to be profitable, players have to lose moeny. And if they weren't profitable, there wouldn't be any of them around. Since there are, it must mean players lose their money.

So the people who gamble on slots either: (a) don't realise they can't win, or (b) can't help themselves despite knowing.

That doesn't sound to me like an activity in which informed, responsible adults engage.


They certainly didn't get so addictive by chance, but not quite by design either. It's a kind of evolution, where some machines suceeed and some fail, with successful techniques carrying through to newer machines, eventually leading to hyper-optimised money making devices. Whilst not disputed that this leads to ethically dubious profits, I can see how it allows the manfuacturers a certain plausible deniability as to their intentions.


I agree with you about the house always winning, and I also don't gamble, however you can consider the activity as a game like an arcade game where the actual playing and spending time costs money, and has value in its own right. I guess the economics is slightly more nuanced, just how you can find addictive computer games which also cost like world of Warcraft I guess


Good point, but the way I see it there are two parts to a gambling game: (a) the physical rewards (blinkenlights, twinkly noises etc) and (b) the monetary rewards.

If the physical rewards were enough of a draw in and of themselves, I think we could reasonably expect there to be a market for games that don't involve money. For instance, I could imagine smaller, cheaper slot machines sold directly to players, to take them home and feed them coins all day, just to see the pretty lights (I mean they could get their coins back at the end of the day).

The fact that there doesn't seem to be any serious interest in that sort of game machine tells me that the monetary rewards are the primary purpose of play.


You've basically described a lot of mobile games though. Candy Crush for example. At first you just play for free but then cleverly they put in a level that most people can't get through so you buy the in-app purchase to let you bypass that level to get to easier addictive levels. I ended up deleting the game when I realized what was going on, but I ended up paying $20-$30 dollars before that -- it really is a similar psychological draw as to gambling -- except you can't make money in Candy Crush -- only spend it.


>> You've basically described a lot of mobile games though. Candy Crush for >> example.

I guess I have and I totally believe games like Candy Crush are exploitative, perhaps even at the same level as gambling.

I remember reading an interview with Tarn Adams (I can't find it anymore) where he pointed out that games that make people perform repetitive actions for some in-game reward are exploitative. At least that was the gist of it. I think he had Cookie Clicker in mind- although maybe I misremember that, because Cookie Clicker is more like the opposite, a game that doesn't hog up your time (it plays itself).

In any case, I think what he said is true. A game that makes you want to press the same key 100 times is just stealing your time. There's always rewards, of course, but if you think of what you could be doing with your life in the time it took to press that key 100 times, it starts to sound a bit pathetic.

The worse thing about this for me was realising that many of my favourite games are exactly that kind. I play lots of shmups, for example. In fact I used to play shmups since I was a kid, when you could find them in arcades and you had to pay to play. I played some of them long enough that I got to the point where I could finish them with one or two coins, so I could say I had some sort of control on the game, but the truth is that each one of those games I liked as a kid was specifically made to draw me in and hook me up, by plugging into my reward centres. And there's no escaping, either, that no matter how good I got I couldn't play if I didn't pay at least one coin.

So, yay, I do 100% think that there are other games besides slots that we're used to think of as bening, but that are also designed to hook you in to some useless rewards and to make you waste your time and your money.

And I haven't even touched on my one true addiction: Magic the Gathering. You don't want to get me started :)


> For instance, I could imagine smaller, cheaper slot machines sold directly to players, to take them home and feed them coins all day, just to see the pretty lights (I mean they could get their coins back at the end of the day).

Already exists, in a way, and are quite popular. Check out the slots games on the Apple and Android app stores; the ones that are created by subsidiaries of slot machine manufacturers (and therefore can make their slots in the likeness of real machines) rake in an astonishing amount of money, despite the fact that the player is just playing for virtual tokens rather than real cash payouts. A couple are in the top 10 by revenue in both app stores.


Utility of money is nonlinear, so it could be rational to throw out a small amount of money for the expectation of large payoff. Of course, it means you should never play again, when you have thrown out sufficiently large quantity of money.


2) Employees are paid by the hour, they have no emotional investment in the outcome of a spin.

5) There are people who can gamble responsibly. They literally don't matter. They are small fry. Their money does not build those opulent Vegas palaces. It's all about the whales, the high rollers.


2) The employees are not gambling, so they are not exposed to the addictive product.

3) Incorrect. Standalone progressives and linked progressives adjust the payout based on the outcome of previous games. Either the jackpot is awarded and reset, or the increment is added and will be available as a future payout. Furthermore some markets have had a history of compensators (eg fruit machine markets / awp).


>Furthermore some markets have had a history of compensators (eg fruit machine markets / awp).

What do you mean by "compensators" and "fruit machine markets / awp", please?

Another dumb question I was too embarrassed to ask in a real casino, but everybody in the gambling industry probably already knows:

I've never read a slot machine "instruction manual", and the instructions on the slot machines in Amsterdam are in Dutch. So my experience is just walking up to them and pressing the buttons to learn how they work.

Some times when you put money into a slot machine, it starts out in this mode where it's only blinking between a few numbered lights but doesn't spin the slots, and it seems stuck in that mode, since I can't reliably get it out of that mode by pressing all the buttons. But sometimes I can, and it's not clear what I did that I didn't do those other times.

Sometimes I'm able to press enough buttons to get it out of that dumb mode and back to spinning the slots as I expected, but some times I just have to eject my money and move on to another machine.

Sometimes a machine will start out in this mode, not spinning the slots, but not usually, and other nearby machines of the same type will act normally (spinning the slots the first time you use them).

What's going on? Is there a reset button around the back of the machine that I don't know about? It seems like a really boring game, and I can't imagine anyone would become addicted to that mode.


A 'Compensator' is an element that dynamically controls the payout typically based on the current 'hold'. The hold being the amount of money in the machine.

If I recall 'Barcrest' has a range of patents covering compensators. (For those interested).

AWP is Amusement with Prize(s) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusement_with_prize

Not sure about the Dutch market. I recall a game shipping to Netherlands called 'Golden Goals', so I believe they have class 3 gaming machines (at least in Casinos?).

Its possible the machine you are talking about has the BET (per line) set high, so that your current CREDIT amount is insuffient to activate all the available LINES. On most modern video slots there is a BET per line, a possible ANTEBET a number of LINES to wager on. The total STAKE = BET * LINE + ANTEBET. The LINE lights (or BET lights in USA) will illuminate based on which valid bets.

My advice is press the collect button, take your money and buy yourself a drink :) Gaming machines work on 'Negative Compound Interest' - thats all you need to know. If you keep re-'investing' you will only end up with a $0 balance.

Finally every Jurisdiction typically operates on different rules. These rules are normally publically available.

For instance NSW Australia has their rules outlined at: http://www.liquorandgaming.nsw.gov.au/Pages/gaming/gaming-ma...

This covers the national standards that are generally applicable to machines in Australia and New Zealand, and then variations and specializations for the particular market of NSW - management protocols, jackpot behaviour, prohibited features etc.


I mean, I guess you have to think like that to do the work you do, but are you really disputing the existence of gambling addiction? It seems like a pretty well documented phenomena by now.


>I guess you have to think like that to do the work you do

I don't think you need to start this on a free to play/social networking site/on-line shopping developer forum.


Yeah that was a bit much. Shouldn’t post before I’ve had my coffee.


This is some serious PR. "Oh we're just about giving people cheap entertainment, it's a total coincidence we profit hugely off the misery of others."


Drinking is a voluntary activity but we still have alcoholics, gambling addiction is the same. Of course no one is forcing people to gamble but similarly no one is forcing a heroin addict to keep taking the drug.


Do you have much experience in taking a look who is playing your slot machines?

I mean do you really go to places and check it out for a few hours?

Here in germany there are small casinos. Not real casinos but with a few machines like 5-20.

I went to such a place because there was a pool table in thenext room. I saw, while playing pool, how a few people used multil machines at once, feed those machines 10Euros and more (around 11$) in a quick feshion.

Do you think, that those people, who play on a saturday afternoon enjoying this? i mean do you really think "yes the experience im providing for them through my job is is an activity they enjoy and the enjoyment stands in relation to the amount of money they are spending".

I only thought "holy shit, poor people, throwing there hard earned money away" I felt sorry for those people. so sry that i was thinking if or how i could approach them.

My pool table for 2 hours and 4-5 drinks was cheaper of what one person was putting in those machines.

I think they are addicted.


Out of pure curiousity, got any sources for me to read regarding 2).

Just because I read it and thought: "You know what, that would be one hell of an interesting study/experiment...".

Because every possible finding: whether industry involvement/employment had the effect of increasing demand, decreasing demand, or being totally irrelevant/representative of the population at large, would be an interesting outcome...


"...if the stats the media are stating is correct, every 6th employee in the industry would also be addicted (using the definition of addiction used from chemical substance abuse). Since there is no measurable difference in addiction levels for employees (who spend 40hrs per week interacting with slots) and players who spend less time, the addiction argument looses its basis.

Your premise is false: The article states the serious addiction rate as 1 in 6 people who play the slots regularly based on Australian govt statistics.

Also, employees paid to interact with slots for work purposes (building, testing, QA, etc) are not equivalent to other people who proactively go to casinos and pay to play for leisure purposes.


[flagged]


There are some people, you know, that don't have the physical ability to do much else to get the same amount of entertainment in their lives.

Casinos are a boon to seniors, giving them a chance to go somewhere where they can actually enjoy themselves with worrying too much.

Jesus, how many sharp edges to we have to round over to make sure that adults live a "safe" life, according to your standards?


Just to be clear: i was never in a casino before until this year when i went to Canada (i'm from germany).

I was always under the assumption, that a casino is fun. Something you don't do that often, you go there to loose money and eat and drink and see people and have a little fun.

When you play poker in a casino, that is somehow okayisch but on an edge: The casino gets a fair share for providing a table and a dealer. Fair i think because i had to pay 10% exchange fee or something similiar. Its fine.

But than i went to a table and i lost my money way way way faster than i could grasp. Srsly fast. Like wtf fast. 100$ gone in 15 minutes. Why? Small blind was small, big blind was only 2 dollars but everyone played for 5 dollars min. Seeing the flop 5$. The dealer is quick like hell. One round doesn't take long.

I went to the casino with a clear limit. I didn't change the limit, i didn't increase it, i didn't went back to an AT&T. But with a reasonble limit in place, you don't have fun in a casino for long. No way. Loosing 100$ i worked my ass of in under an hour? No srysl no. This is not fun and not entertainment. It is loosing money with the illusion that you could beat someone on that table and you can't.

You only can when you extercise when you do it as a job or when you have a gambling addiction and spend your hard earned money every money there and just losing losing losing.

Now back to the slot machines: Those are even more fucked up. I really mean fucked up. I thought you can play with them like different subgames, a little bit of reaction or choses but there non. And i mean non.

0 Zero non.

You have one button to press (which is more or less your 'losing money button') and another row of buttons to increase the amount you are 'betting'.

Wtf?

There is no emotional value in sitting in front of a slot machine, pressing a button and losing money. Yes everything else, getting fucking drunk in a bar next door and pucking the shit out of you or just sitting at home and watching tv has more value to live than sitting in front of a digital machine and pressing a button.

And no that has nothing to do with 'save' life. and it has nothing to do with 'enjoying themselves'.

Casino work because people get addicted. Casinos work because they have enough audiance arround it which gives the addicted people the feeling that they are not alone. But thats it. And its horrible.


I've had the opposite experience. Casinos are a fun way to spend a little cash and waste an hour or two. I especially like pachinko games because of the novelty.

I guess this means that no one has the exact same experience, and this mythical "you" you keep referencing isn't representative of everybody.


Tell us more about your ideal society where everything is harmless.


My live is good, its also a harmless live. Not sure what your problem is.

For a more detailed comment, see my answer to the comment above you.


Go do something worthwhile with your life.


Sadly, the article does disservice to a lot of actual mechanics of the industry. And the amount of hard work that goes on to actually makes these games addictive. It is not for no reason that these are called one-armed bandits.

* This industry is highly regulated; but it rarely does help those really in need. If the regulations were very strictly implemented (player wager limits, player time controls, self-regulation), none of the gambling / gaming companies would make any money. For eg: the wager limit are compulsory to be implemented on a daily / weekly / monthly basis; however these numbers are so high, that it rarely makes sense but for the most serious addicts

* Most of the victims are from the already high-risk demographics, as is with tobacco, alcohol, payday loans and drug abuse, the low income, unstable jobs, low literacy, blue collar jobs or are already on social support. The offers by data-analysis is always to target them. I think most of the time - these addicts are just there to get that one chance to make a big win (which almost never happens).

* Near miss is a very old tactic. The interplay of sounds, music, imagery has been very well polished to really give a feel of high end experience (vs plain gameplay). Gamble rounds (double or nothing) at the end of a game are targeted at those twitchy fingers.

* Slot machines work at payouts of 94% - 97% (ie when wagering 1000$ the player will only get 94 - 97$) on a long timeline. So yes, the house edge is quite small. What is problematic is not the money lost but the fact that addiction over a long time, is definitely at the cost of a small fortune.

* I am pretty sure no one has any idea why some slots work and some don't. When they do work, they earn the makers millions though.

However, whenever such numbers come up, I am always sure that these tactics are no different from any industry that is fighting for coveting the attention of the user. I am pretty sure Facebook (or Zynga) has a bigger data science time and data analysis team that these casino companies have to identify the psyches of players and customize the experience to the users / players.

* Disclosure: I have worked in the technical design & implementation of these games.


As I write this, I think you have a typo there; 94-97% payout on $1000 is $940-970. (But I am confident it is just a typo.)

And you sort of state this, but I'd empasize that's per spin; for a $1 spin, the casino expects to make 5 cents and give back 95 cents... but then they expect you to put those 95 cents right back in with high probability, meaning that you can now expect .9025 of the original dollar, which again they expect you to put back in... it doesn't take much math to understand where this value is headed if you keep feeding the machine its own output.

I have thought before that if you must play the slots, but you want to retain the possibility of winning, the right way to do it is to take $X, and play it through the machine once, keeping all the output separated. I mean, the right right way, statistically, is to set X to 0, but if you want to play for the enjoyment or whatever and still have a chance of winning something, this seems like the best strategy.


The "right" way to gamble is to decide how much fun gambling is and how much it's worth to you and then spend that amount. Like for example I could go skydiving for $350 or play a few hours of blackjack and poker for that much and decide to choose the latter. So you spend that much to get the expected result.

Sometimes you bust out quickly, sometimes you make money, just like sometimes you see a bad movie or concert for full price. But as long as the calculation is actually utility all is well. Of course in practice that's hard to do, our brains aren't quite wired for it.


Yes, totally agree with this. This is the most appropriate way to gamble. The casinos are viewed as an entertainment industry, and that's exactly what people should treat them as.

For me, I realized years ago that even when I won, I didn't enjoy playing. That was an odd observation/realization to experience when it finally occurred to me. I was down in New Orleans for a bachelor party and we all won a bunch of money because the table was hot - everyone roughly made enough to pay for their trip. Which was great. But then I realized that even though I was thrilled that I just got a free trip, it occurred to me I didn't actually enjoy the experience (time spent) of winning the money. I derived little to no entertainment/pleasure from it as it was happening, even though the process was addicting. Luckily, we managed to all agree to leave while we were up big.

I think if most people actually sat down and thought about it, I think they would find the same true for them. Ever actually looked at gamblers when they are playing? They all look miserable. High stakes, low stakes, slots, table games, doesn't matter. Most of them look miserable yet remain there.


Exactly! I love playing craps. The ups and downs are a big rush, plus it is super social. I set my personal limits pretty low so I cannot play much anymore in the bigger casinos where minimums are $25+. Find a smaller casino with $2 minimums, a rowdy crowd, and it's a great time :)


Yep, same for me, my mum taught me as a kid that you should never aim to come out of a casino with money. Your wager is your investment in the fun of that experience, take £20 in to play an hour on the 1p/line slots.

In the same way I play the lottery, don't expect to win, but for me the cost is worth it for the moments of daydreaming I get from it.


Yes, that is a typo (I had 100$ in my mind ...).

Since these machines are fixed odds games each result of a spin is completely exclusive of the result from the other spin. So a 97% avg payout for a spin or over a billion spins (a game cycle) is the same.

The problem is that a player cannot take a hit a continue playing while a casino can keep doing it theoretically forever.

The problem with slots as with most games is to know when to quit. When a player who has lost 5 pennies coming back to bet 95 pennies is not the problem. The problem is for a player who has put in a thousand pounds over a year, wins a jackpot of 4000 pounds, does not cash out put again goes back to betting those 4000 pounds - that keeps losing.

Correct, as you said, know how much I want to spend on entertainment, spend it and return back. I've actually seen that in land-based casinos, people go out with a fixed moolah in hand, play and lose that and come back. In online casinos, though, there's no stopping them.


>the low income, unstable jobs, low literacy, blue collar jobs or are already on social support.

The few times I've been to a casino, I was really surprised by the crowd. It wasn't exactly Casino Royale. Just a lot of people who came off as lower class to me (clothing, speech, mannerisms, etc) and/or retirees, who also weren't exactly living it up. Heck, I even saw a woman slyly shove a $5 prime rib into her purse for later. The entire steak too, and without a ziplock or anything. She just shoved it in there to eat later. She was also wearing a bedazzled sweater with a pair of dice. I suspect a lot of these people end up identifying with a 'casino lifestyle.'

There was also something depressing about the slot machines that had cute cartoon characters on them. I wonder what the emotional and intellectual age of the people playing are. They seemed more like children who have yet to have the maturity and education to understand risk and financial security than adults.

>This industry is highly regulated

I imagine its regulated like most regulations in the USA: by the whims of the industry itself. They'll tolerate gambling hotlines and will fund them because ultimately that keeps real regulation away. The same way cigarette makers tolerated labels but, of course, were never pulled from store shelves.


That high percentage payout that you descibe is very misleading. There's an excellent description of this at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-27/cummings---poker-machi...


wouldn't a payoff of 97% means that with a fixed amount of money going in, over time you end up with $0? the payoff is exponential in the wrong direction, right?


The graph for the payouts would look like exponential decay.[1]

Lets say you walk in with 1000 dollars in your pocket.

If the payoff is 97 percent, you would expect the money in your pocket to be .97^n where n is the number of times you took the bet. Each bet reduces the money in your pocket by 3%

While the curve approaches zero, the real limit is the minimum bet of that particular game.

1. http://teacher.nsrl.rochester.edu/phy_labs/AppendixD/Appendi...


Not really. The graph for payout would be jumping up and down. With an exponential decay, you would mean no player would make any money.

You should remember, the industry would not have been so lucrative or addictive if there were no wins at all!


That is the wrong interpretation - atleat the math says so.

The 97% payout is a payout over millions (billions) of 1$ bets made on the machine - called the game cycle. You have to remember that players win and lose too.

Theoretically, if I were to wager 1$ over a million spins, I should be left with 970K$. That is what happens too if we consider the payout of the machine over the full lifecycle of the slot game.

The problem is that a player's funds are always limited. So when they hit a losing streak, they would lose all money by the time a winning streak can come their way. The house however has theoretically infinite funds at their disposal.


With a mechanical slot machine I can understand the reel thing. But with electronic screens, software making up reels, how do I know that the software does not fool me even more?

Take the given example with first slot 1/16, second 1/32 and third 1/44 chance of winning big. Now assume the generated numbers are really random, and that day or week the machine has given two big prices. Then a third big number combination is created, and here a new rule takes over, changing one of the numbers so the price is smaller.

Is this regulated or how does this work?


One of the regulations is that each reel is independent. You cannot change any reel outcome based on what the other reels are doing, and you cannot change any reel outcome based on past results.

I'm not 100% sure this is the case but I'm pretty confident.


Not necessarily. The math for video slots can be changed to handle that functionality, but it has to be fair and RNG driven. And of course has to be audited.


From a USA point of view: it's highly regulated at the state level. State gaming commissions hire third-party labs to audit the mathematics and software to make sure everything matches what the manufacturer says it does. Things like changing the odds dynamically is never allowed. The casino may load up a new program with different odds or mechanics, but for any particular game the odds must match what is published to the gaming board.

Now, this doesn't necessarily apply for non-governmental casinos, like ones on indian reservations. They are their own enforcers. Use that information as you will.


> From a USA point of view: it's highly regulated at the state level. State gaming commissions hire third-party labs to audit the mathematics and software to make sure everything matches what the manufacturer says it does.

Can you point me to more info on this "auditing" process? For all the recent coverage of "algorithmic fairness" (an area where I do some research) I'm not aware of any other usecases where mandatory software audits are common, so this is interesting. Who are these labs?


One of the most popular labs in this line of work is GLI (Gaming Laboratories International)

http://www.gaminglabs.com/

Here's a doc from their site about RNG testing:

http://www.gaminglabs.com/pdfs/GLI%20Comp%20Sub%20Req%20V1.2...


Thanks, this is pretty thorough. Do you by chance know how these verification systems arose -- goverment intervention or, somehow, from within the industry?

It's remarkable to me that good software verification practices (well, trusting this document and knowing only a little about verification in general) is up and running for casinos, not banks or other important software users.


From my experience, which is a very small intersection of a software validation background combined with work in the gaming industry, labs like GLI sprung up from demand. Gaming laws were written to require independent verification from the start which seems smart.

That said, labs like GLI don't really comb the entire code for bugs. They're looking for obvious things like backdoors, flaws in random number generation, payout table problems...blatant things that would make a machine fail against the player.

Bugs still do happen. Google for "$42 million jackpot denied". You'll find multiple instances over the years, and you'll also quickly see that the actual amount in question is almost always $42,949,762.95.

Why is that number special? =)


Heh. Overflow? Funny (maybe not to "winners").


Technically a 32-bit underflow (2^32-1, or 0xFFFFFFFF), but you've got it.

Remember, kids: don't mix error states and return values.


It is highly regulated. The software has to go through stringent gaming reviews every year, the RNG has to be re-certified, the software cannot be updated without prior regulatory approval, the game math has to be certified.

You cannot change rules based on prior winning strategy. Theoretically two spins can payout the jackpot (but the probability is very very low), and the casino has to pay them out as long as they were valid spins.


Gambling software in casinos is regulated extremely closely.


I've personally seen casino multi game slots that have had either options built in to them via admin panels or grievous enough software issues that mis-wired multi use buttons could allow a player to either lose horribly or continually win/compound upon wins. The coin or credit in/out stat counters would also be affected and be pretty much worthless. These issues just throw ANY concept of magic "odds" chips right out the window.

They're not regulated that closely at all.


I recently read an excellent book about this subject exactly --

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, by Natasha Dow Schüll.

It has research from every angle -- former addicts, the casinos, current addicts, game programmers, game manufacturers, anyone who has a hand in the industry.

It's incredibly comprehensive, and definitely worth a look, if a bit long.


It pains me to say this, but, back when "Gamification" was a major growth tool, I read this book so that I could identify potential avenues for "gamify-ing" the product that I was working on, but, the stories of the addicts are really what drove me away from even considering that for what I was working on.

I'll +1 on it being a really comprehensive book.


The book "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" is exactly that. Minus the cautionary tales, I guess (haven't read it).


She also did an interview for Adam Ruins Everything for people looking for a shorter time commitment than a book.

http://www.maximumfun.org/adam-ruins-everything/professor-na...


It may be this stuff is true for current slot machines, but it isn't immediately obvious if you try one. In fact, current slot machines are an incoherent mess.

When I played recently, I couldn't tell whether I had a near-miss or even a win until credits counted upward. I couldn't feel any excitement because I didn't know what was going on. It would have taken me several hundred dollars worth of play to even understand what was happening. Maybe this is part of the plan, or maybe their product gets used no matter how bad it is - as long as those rewards pay out randomly.


If you're so inclined you can buy a slot machine program and save yourself a ton of money. As WOPR said in War Games: "The only winning move is not to play."

But if you'd still like to gamble just to gamble there's a hilariously dated set of books by John Scarne you may want to read. Try Scarne on Dice or Scarne's Complete Guide to Gambling. He does a decent job of explaining the rules to then common casino games including a layman's introduction to probability and payouts. The most entertaining part of the books is his language: he writes in the same dialogue used by gangsters in 40s movies.

The books can be found on the cheap in garage sales or at Half Price Books.


I'be had the same experience, though you will start to get the hang of more complicated machines after a couple dozen spins.

I wonder if that complexity adds to the allure. "Now that I understand this complicated machine, I better not let that that hard earned knowledge go to waste"


There is definitely a machismo about being able to master the UK pub slot machines with all the features and tests of "skill".


When I used to throw tons of money at the things, what amazed and impressed my friends wasn't that I would regularly win money - I wouldn't, and I was always up front about how much I was pissing away - but just that I understood what the hell was going on. It felt like neither mastery nor machismo.


What did it feel like? Honest fatalism, a happy cynicism?

I'm thinking your experience may not be unique, perhaps most gambling addicts are fully aware what they are doing? Maybe it's a common thing with all addicts, or perhaps gambling as it's less, well, chemical allows the brain to see things clearer.


It changed over the years.

From, like, 92-00 I was sinking way more money than I could properly afford into them, and often hated the experience. Losing felt absolutely horrible, but winning felt fantastic. Most of my friends would gamble too, but I took it that much further. I'd put enough money for the drinks I wanted in one pocket, and the other pocket was my gambling funds. It was very fatalistic, I knew that I was virtually guaranteed to go home drunk, skint, and angry with myself. Often I'd swear blind en route that if I emptied my pockets today, then that was it, this shit had to stop - and of course, those would be the days when I'd take out a jackpot or two, buy a big round of celebratory drinks, etc. But I got into pretty significant debt over the whole time, taking out credit cards and maxing each one out (on cash withdrawals!!) within a couple of months.

From 00-03 I paid off my debts, was still gambling a lot but could afford it. I don't recall much negative emotion, it was mostly just "this is what I do when I'm in the pub". I'd win some, lose some, it didn't really matter. I liked "knowing" that "hey, it's turned red, that means it's about to pay". If I wasn't playing, I'd watch those who were and enjoy spotting where they were turning down obvious money, not collecting the "good" features, etc, and hope I could jump on after they're done and take their cash. This was the peak of the period I referred to in the previous post, when colleagues would ask how on earth I knew what was going on, and could I help them spend their £1-3 as a bit of fun.

My gf at the time wasn't such a fan and, in fact, bet me that I couldn't go a year without playing - which was a stroke of genius. Obviously I took the bet, and won. For the last few weeks leading up to the anniversary I was kinda salivating at the idea of spending a couple of hours posting money into a fruity again, and when I did ... meh. Nothing. I lost, I didn't care, and the hold was basically broken.

Since then, it certainly helps that, at least in London, fruit machines have all but disappeared from most pubs, and as jackpots have gone up the fun has gone out of them anyway because they seem to pay out respectable wins much more seldom. I'll still throw £20 or £40 in one if I'm in a pub on me lonesome and waiting for a train, say, and I enjoy playing online but it doesn't consume me and, in fact, I tend to make a profit most months - I find it very easy to limit both my downside and the upside. Back in the day, quite often a win would just mean I could play longer, whereas these days I'm like "cool, I'm £50 up, I'll take that and get on with something else".


Fruity - that's the word! I've been out of the UK long enough to forget. The Australian pubs have entire "VIP Lounge" dedicated to the "Pokies" and brings in a lot of money for them. But the challenge of those machines isn't there - there is something very addictive about the UK fruit machines. A mix of the gambling addiction plus general game-playing addiction trying to upskill and win better. I new many 16 year olds pumping serious coin into them, getting better but still losing. I also heard of people who could make money from them (although $/hour wasn't too hot), although not sure whether to believe that.


Australian pokies hold basically no allure for me. I've been visiting Sydney on a yearly basis for 10+ years, and only on my first trip did I really spend any time gambling. It wasn't much fun even though I won: unfamiliarity, plus the style of games were so different. Though what really put me off the most was the racism from the RSL employee who came to verify my payout!


I definitely felt that way about three card poker (a common table game) when I first started playing. It ends up, though, that optimal strategy is as simple as just playing Q-6-4 or better. [1]

I think these things are all about making it seem complicated up front so that when you start getting the hang of it, it feels like you might understand something other players don't.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_card_poker


No kidding. Feels like it should have a QR code on the machine. you can use to download an app that explains what is happening. Or at least a PDF of the probably 10 page payout schedule. And to even get to whatever 3D Ellen Simpsons Plants vs Zombies Wheel of Fortune Jeopardy bonus round. Oh, and those penny slots? Great deal. Only have to wager about $5 per pull to get the good jackpots. Couple that with the strip casinos putting lights on top to signal whether your play has been enough to receive comped drinks.

I'll stick to craps, thanks.


I think it's designed this way, they want you becoming reliant on things like sound effects, interactive featurettes and flashy graphics to know how well you've gone. Once you're accustomed to this you can then be manipulated, they can give you some fancy noises and start a featurette, then when you win nothing you think you were just unlucky that time, but the next time you get free spins...


Perhaps you just aren't familiar with basic slot concepts? A typical slot player will sit down and first figure out the shape of the lines. Once you know those, it's trivial to notice when you got a near miss.

Slot machines have complex bonus games sometimes, but the base game is almost always quite simple, as long as you understand the basic concepts.


There's no such thing as a near miss in this outside of our own perception.

A loss with is a loss no matter how close that last jackpot symbol was.


Yeah I had the same problem, so I created my own slot machine. However it's only on Android so I can't pull a real lever :(

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.TImMendez.... if you're interested, made in Unity.


Cheeky you have to pay or watch a long ad to reload once you run out. Reload prices are silly but can imagine you'll get some addicts.


Video game industry is pushing these tactics to new heights with loot box gamification, even better the target consumers are young, mentally underdeveloped children who are much easier to addict to gambling. China/Japan have regulated these practices for years already (with minimal effectiveness because money wins and publishers have found loopholes), but at least they're trying. Over here we just let companies go to town on our youth, mental health and stability be damned.

They are printing money at the expense of hooking children into gambling. This is no different than tobacco companies targeting children with advertisement which was rightfully outlawed. - Corporations encouraging and nourishing gambling addiction in underage consumers (with the help of trained psychologists) for profit is despicable. Don'tunderstand why more people aren't upset about this.


My guess is lot of us adults don't really see much of it, cause it's not targeted at us.

I see the regular "come to hopping awesome great casino" ads on tv/radio/internet. My thoughts - thats where people go to lose money.

But these loot boxes, I had to research what this was referring to. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loot_box

And after reading how they're used, yeah, thats like years ago when I played and bought Magic The Gathering. Sure, a pack was $2.95, but it was a complete gamble on what rare you got. You didn't buy packs for commons and lands - you bought them for a chance at the chase rare (now ubers).

Maybe its just my age. But I think lowly of "buying" some digital construct in a game that I don't own is completely ridiculous. I get spending time and running up levels, but spending actual hard cash (past a per month cost) is just.. bad.


you're absolutely right you can trace the roots of this back to Magic and if you want to go further back Baseball cards. It was fairly innocent back then, with the advent of gaming technology and research into dopamine-releasing mechanics/skinner boxes it's reached insidious levels.


Tell me about it :/

I remember the older days of MTG, around revised and 4th ed. There were ante cards - it was set up so games could be gambling between players. They finally removed all the ante cards (like ante another card, and gain life back to 20 and a full hand of cards). But in the end, there were good and bad cards - but the game was fun.

MTG started doing the "YuGiOh" scam, of foil cards. Then uber-rares. And then also using the chase-rares to loot-boxify the game.

But now, I've seen a few games that try to incentivize purchasing coin to play more. There was some car game I remember that did that - if you were to buy every upgrade it would be over $12,000 . Hill Climb Racing 2, I think its name was.

And here I was, thinking that a $50 game was expensive. Yeouch. I feel bad for people who got suckered into that scam.


I was lucky. I remember being 18 years old and putting the money for my bus ticket home into a slot machine because "it had to pay out this time". I lost and had a 5 mile walk home. I have avoided the machines ever since. Meeting a programmer of these devices some years ago and him explaining a lot of what they did re-enforced my view to stay away from them.


I'm taking a learning psych course this semester, honestly you barely need to design them at all. Any random positive outcome will cause (on average) a non-interrupted repetition of the preceding behavior.

Most mobile games nowadays are "designed" (read: made crappier) with such a feature. Just try and find a "free to play" game where the outcome isn't random... It's just not as profitable.


But truly random systems will be volatile. In terms of slot machine design, that means long dry periods of no wins (big or small) at all.

If you talk to slot designers, the word "volatile" is used about every 30 seconds. The virtual reel and near-miss concepts are designed to give the appearance of a less volatile machine, which converts into a player staying on the machine longer.

TLDR: fake near misses hide the actual randomness of the reward system.


Addiction by Design is a book that takes a really comprehensive look at slot machine design it’s pretty wild how much thought is put into it and this is before ML became practical, I’m sure casino company’s are leveraging it now.


I remember reading an article years ago where a video-poker machine manufacturer "trained" the machine using real playing behavior of famous poker stars...

For German machines I can say they're not a target market for ML or other "experimental" stuff given the ultra strict regulations here. More or less illegal online casinos however are the new Wild West of the gambling industry.


Video poker and the type of poker played by 'famous poker stars' (Texas Hold'em generally, if it's televised) are entirely different things.


And technically Poker isn't gambling as the outcome is not random like wise horse racing.


There have to be verifiably fair ethereum gambling contracts right?


Apparently, yes. I wonder how legal it is, it's probably got pretty good margins.


I've certainly seen gambling sites around bitcoin, where there is an indelible audit trail if not an actual enforceable contract.


I wonder what makes HN so addictive. I have no facebook, no twitter no reddit. And no youtube during work. But damn, I can't miss all those goodies on HN!


The same effect, novelty which presents at random is highly addictive, creating compulsive behaviour of constant checking. (Guilty over here too)


I think being an information junkie is more of the reason of HN addiction.


If you're a human being in the normal (+- 3 standard deviations) bands of brain functionality, you're an information junkie, but people have different information diets/highs.


The content of this article is fantastic and frightening.

However, viewing this page on mobile, you can’t help but appreciate the interactivity that feels as though it’s been designed with the mobile reader in mind. It’s marvelous.


I am sitting here on an upgraded Nexus 9 tablet with the latest Google Chrome. This thing came out less than 3 years ago and yet I literally cannot read this article. I wait ten seconds not touching the page for it to finish loading as fonts, banners, sounds all pop in and try to settle around me. Barely touching the screen to scroll it down causes a button to start sliding around the page, overlapping on top of a bunch of text telling me I can stop pushing the button any time. The roulette wheel animation in the background spins at 2fps while the motor in my fan spins at 7200rpm. Trying to touch the button causes the whole page to refresh. The page regresses to "Loading" on white while a banner ad and a pop-up self-congratulating the site for using cookies comes up. Another ten seconds to wait for my now baking sheet to cool down and I try sliding past the button while the music stutters, failing to play. The tab reloads again.

The only words I was able to read were the banner ad, the bit that tells me I can stop pushing the button, and "Loading". I think this is an apt metaphor for the modern web.


Your Nexus 9 tablet has a fan that spins at 7200rpm?


It's probably one of those bluetooth fans.

http://list.qoo10.sg/item/XIAOMI-XIAOMI-XIAOMI-INTELLIGENT-F...


Apparently it was designed for mobiles. On a desktop it's a nightmare.


I assume this web page has words and images. But without JavaScript, it displays only trash: https://i.imgur.com/DEHdKy5.png


It is an interactive article so it kind of requires js. It would need to be rewritten to make sense without the interactivity.


If by marvelous, you mean takes forever to load...starts rendering black text on a red background, background animations then pop in that distract me from reading the text, and oh great, what's this, inconsitent and involuntary sounds that load by default, several seconds after the page starts rendering and replay repeatedly based on where i scroll up or down in the article. I'd scroll and try to read and then "BAM" NEW-RANDOM-SOUND and animation! Shut up! I'm trying to read your god damned paragraph!

And now the animations are stuttering as I scroll...

Oh, and the horizontal-border between the text and the animation shifts up and down depending on where i am on the page (literally obscuring the text I was reading at one point).

Maybe i'm not the kind of person that poker machine sounds appeal to...

I literally can't even get it to work on my desktop setup :(


Loaded perfectly on my two year old iPhone but man the sound effects were annoying and unexpected


Game developers are similarly employing psychologists to maximize addictiveness of gambling in games targeted and children and teens in the form of "loot boxes", and due to lack of regulation, they are allowed to use even more scummy techniques that the gambling industry had long been prohibited from using, in order to more effectively squeeze money out of players.


These "articles" with embedded scroll-hijacking garbage have got to stop.

I really wanted to read about slot machines but I'm not suffering through that.

Does this need to be a new hn flag? This is the second of these today.


This isn't scrolljacking. Scrolljacking generally refers to modifying the normal or expected scrolling behaviour. This has a single sticky section floated over the top of a normally scrolling page.


This one is better than some. At least the content is still scrolled naturally, and only the media on the right is locked. Nothing is worse than a site that is completely hijacked, where no matter how many rolls of the mouse wheel, you have the wait and see each downward animation one at a time.


I agree it does look quite atrocious- apologies, but I felt it was interesting enough to post anyway.


The article only briefly mentions other games. While Hacker News readers may not be that familiar with slot machines, a higher portion will certainly be familiar with 'grind' in various computer games, which is essentially the same thing using many similar tricks, and a mechanism to extend play time; most noticeable on MMOs when they get hundreds or thousands of play time out of a customer, when the equivalent budget single player game would get 20.


Many gambling games exploit a cognitive bias known as the gambler's fallacy (e.g: the fallacy that playing more will increase your odds of winning).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler%27s_fallacy


With modern slot machines, isn't this actually true though? I thought one of the benefits of computerized slots was to be able to control the pay outs better.


There are usually regulations on what is the maximum the machine can retain. It's not truly pseudorandom but rather weighted pseudorandomness.


No, it's not true. Every draw is independent, so past performance has zero bearing on future performance.


Each roll has fuck-all chance of winning then.


If you're a parent, you can play this strategy on your children, instead of a simple star reward chart, where good task = reward, reward spuriously and without cue, when you reward them, tell them you know they are always trying hard to do the right thing and are proud of how often they make a good choice, maybe point out something they could have done better if it's recent enough to be recalled... With a star chart children are adept at learning the minimum requirements for reward, and the point of the reward, for good behaviour, is lost in the game...


It misses a few things, noting the time taken to reach zero portion you'll notice the large spike at the beginning, the machines are intentionally generous at the start to hook the player.

That said, the odds are actually fixed and the payout % are required to be displayed on the machines by (UK) law.

Normal pay to play arcade videogames that are't as regulated, and have no age limits also have the same difficulty spike mechanics I'm almost sure, f2p games with micro-transactions definitely have this mechanic.


How soul-destroying a job must it be to develop these games? Spending all day designing software to trick more vulnerable people into giving you their money?


>trick more vulnerable people into giving you their money

I don't really have an issue with casinos as such, I'm sure it can be fun for a holiday. What I do mind is all the smaller gaming kiosks that started popping up when Denmark opened up it's gambling/betting marked (because EU required it that it not be a government monopoly).

There's so many small crappy looking kiosks that now offers gambling on slot machines, but it's not people like myself that pops in on a Friday afternoon on the way home from work to spend the equivalent of $10 - $20 to relax. It's societies weakest members that banging on the door to be the first at the slots and won't leave until their asked to leave at the end of the evening. The people sitting at the slots are the people who can afford it the least. It's absolutely terrible that this is legal.


You just described probably 80% of video games and software...


Certainly addictiveness is an issue for all gaming - I'm pretty sure Blizzard hired psychologists, and look at the increasing use of loot box mechanics, even in full-price console games.

That said, there's a kind of distilled evil in the slot machine case. There's no gameplay to hide behind, it's just insert money, win/don't win.


I am sure people agree with you here and there will be plenty of people who find the casino industry distasteful but I would avoid projecting your own value set onto this.

For every person whose life has been ruined by gambling, there are many who are able to enjoy it responsibly. Same goes for any of the other classic vices such as tobacco or drinking, or even food. I am sure there are plenty of people who are comfortable distancing themselves with the responsibility of the impact these products have on users but take pride in their ability to improve upon the metrics that warrant success in their field.

If it were so soul-destroying, no one would do the job... (unless the pay was phenomenal)


It just occurred to me the same randomized reward mechanism mentioned in the article is the same one that occurs (for me, anyway) on the HN main page. Clicking refresh and not knowing what new awesome thing will be there.


A general thought about gambling:

If you lose, you give someone else your money. If you win, you take money from someone else.

Doesn't feel fair or nice or cool or whatever. It feels strange to give or take money from someone else.

Alone the fact, that my winning is not just winning but taking money from others makes it broken. I do not want to have an advantage over others per pure chance.


The Atlantic did a great piece on gambling/gaming earlier this year. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the link. Sorry. Perhaps someone else can do better than me.


Unreadable. Too bad, the title seemed interesting. Also, sound?


I think this article is worth to activate JavaScript.


I never turn off javascript. It's still unreadable. Are you using a phone? Some posters were saying it made sense there.


The one guy's glasses look animated.


Yes! What is going on with those glasses. They look like they're drawn on.


Are we sure it's the design that hooks people in? I tend to believe that's the nature of gambling. The exploitation of human's desire to want more than they have.


Video games in the Free2Play niche inherited a lot of slot machine and casino gamification mechanics. Now even proper video games of the triple-A full prize segment $70 come with "loot boxes", helix points, DLCs, trading cards, always-online that unnerves the greater audience but a few (rich) noobs (so called "whales") get sucked/addicted in and pay tausends of dollars for virtual goods additionally to the full prize game. Former sound gameplay mechanic got changed and dumped down to incorporate the gamification mechanics into proper full prize games, where formerly skill played a major role, it's now "invested time" to play ("grind") or to pay real money for shortcuts, to reduce the time to collect the virtual currency. Games like Forza 7, Assassin's Creed Origin, Diablo 3, NBA 2k17, and many more from big publishers feature such addictive gambling slot machine mechanics.

Loot boxes have reached a new low with Forza 7’s “pay to earn” option: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/09/loot-boxes-have-reach...

Loot boxes in video games will soon get a review flag from OpenCritic: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/10/loot-boxes-in-video-g...

China will force games with loot boxes to publicly expose their drop rates and probabilities: https://www.vg247.com/2016/12/08/china-will-force-games-with...

UK Government Responds to Loot Boxes as Gambling Petition: http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2017/10/19/uk-government-responds-to...


Video game industry is pushing these tactics to new heights with loot box gamification, even better the target consumers are young, mentally underdeveloped children who are much easier to addict to gambling. It's beyond evil and should be regulated immediately, China/Japan have had regulations about this for years already. America leading the way in letting businesses exploit underage consumers, encouraging addictions to gambling for profit.


In 10 years: How Facebook is designed to be addictive


What do you think "stickiness" or "user engagement" are measuring. Same metrics that ran Farmville, and the same metrics putting lootboxes in games now.


Preaching to the choir


(In the hope that a correction is actually helpful) it's 'preaching to the choir'.


No, it's definitely 1/20th of a ream of paper.


People are already talking about social media and how it's addictive[1].

1) https://www.google.com/search?q=how+social+media+is+designed...


He's pointing out that the material in this article has been discussed ad nauseam and this doesn't present any new ideas.


Or perhaps how Facebook succeeded, because it happened to be more addictive than its competitors. Evolutionary mechanisms will ensure that the most successful social network is the most addictive one.


Personally I think this is less intelligent design and more evolutionary.

It's an important distinction because scenario one is a stack of evil old men cackling away, scenario two is just people doing their jobs.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity"

has a corollary I think "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by evolution"


They are abusing kids to get their money printed


wonderful idea and very natural


ive been to casinos many times, played slot machines many times. dont find them fun or addictive at all. those machines dont make even a smallest suggestion that i would ever win any serious amount playing them. people addicted to slot machines are basically stupid


Not stupid, irrational. Even people who know better get addicted to gambling because it seems to hook in to some sort of primal instinct for some.


It only takes one decent hit on a slot machine to change your tune.




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